Andover Townsman, Andover, MA

June 20, 2013

Town's stand on liquor laws loud and clear

The Andover Townsman

---- — The Board of Selectmen is clearly not joking when it comes to being vigilant about underage drinking and liquor laws in Andover.

Just ask the operators of Raagini Indian Bistro in Shawsheen Plaza.

Selectmen laid down the law before Raagini was awarded its liquor license late last year. They told the management they took the laws seriously and violations would not be tolerated.

Less than six months after Raagini’s opening comes a report that the 24-year-old manager is providing a 17-year-old female employee alcohol after hours at the restaurant. Selectmen, as the town’s liquor licensing authorities, conducted a public hearing on the alleged violation this week.

It didn’t matter that the manager, Jaspreet “Jessi” Pabla, came clean and admitted to the infraction. Or that he promised never to do it again.

The fact that it appears to be the restaurant’s first formal violation also wasn’t a point of consideration for selectmen.

The board came down on Raagini’s operators and came down hard, serving them with a 30-day suspension of their license to serve alcohol.

It’s interesting to note that the lone dissenter in the 4-1 vote was Selectman Mary Lyman, who has been strident in her desire to enforce the liquor laws. She was willing to go a little lighter in her punishment for fear the harsh penalty could kill the business.

Still, Lyman admonished Pabla for not taking officials’ warnings seriously six months ago when Raagini’s liquor license was initially issued.

“I can’t believe you didn’t hear how strongly I believe in this,” she told him at the public hearing. “I thought I left you with a very strong impression, as a parent, that this isn’t tolerated. This isn’t something we have any degree of tolerance for. If any child in the town loses their life or is injured in any way, I take it personally.”

Hearings on liquor law infractions aren’t common occurrences in Andover. Going into the hearing on Raagini’s, selectmen Chairman Alex Vispoli said, “This is something that I’m glad to say we don’t have a lot of experience with.”

Maybe that’s because those who serve or sell alcohol in town know they’ll be facing more than a slap on the wrist if they flaunt or break the law.

And if they didn’t know before, they certainly do now.

While Raagini’s can still operate during the 30-day suspension, no alcohol can be served. That’s a big price to pay for even the most thriving restaurant.

Raagini’s can appeal its suspension to the state Alcoholic Beverages Control Commission, which would then conduct its own hearing. And perhaps the ABCC would be more lenient, taking into account the fact that it was the restaurant’s first offense.

But whatever happens, selectmen can rest assured that the word is out about their feelings on underage drinking and disregard for the liquor laws. They simply won’t stand for it in Andover.